Best of the Rest

16 Biggest Hits (Monument/Legacy)
Not counting imports, there are now 13 best-ofs on 10 labels by this opera singer from the wrong side of the oil rig. Unless you worship Scott Walker, rockabilly, or both (a big unless), you need precisely one. There's no Sun ooby-doobie-booby here, just 16 of the 20 tracks on All-Time Greatest Hits of You-Know-Who, where you pay a buck apiece for four expendables, including Roy's third hit, which peaked at 27 while the other four went 2-9-1-2, wonder why. Here you get what you want: amazing vocal range, a beat that would give Scott Walker lumbago, the mystic miracles "Blue Bayou," "Only the Lonely," and "In Dreams," lesser product slow and fast, and one of the greatest records ever made: "Oh, Pretty Woman." A MINUS

RCA Country Legends (Buddha)
Voicewise, as brilliant as Vernon Dalhart, Ray Price, George Jones. Contentwise, as wan as Red Foley, Ronnie Milsap, Eddie Rabbitt. Only for Pride, wan was perverse. A deeply ambitious sharecropper's son who moved up to Montana to pursue his first love, baseball, and settled for a job smelting zinc, Pride didn't stand out because he could dip from tenor to bass in well-enunciated middle-American smeared with drawl and flanged with vibrato. He stood out because he wasn't white. Although it wasn't easy becoming the only black country star ever, once he got over the hump he was the perfect token for Southern traditionalists eager to find safe common ground with the civil rights movement. Stylistically honky-tonk when Nashville was trying to be modern, he was never thematically honky-tonk—no drinking songs, God knows no catting songs. Yet his skin color was inescapable. From this Mississippi émigré the pro forma can't-go-home-again of "Wonder Could I Live There Anymore" was an indictment, "voice of Uncle Ben" and all. And how to read the cornball complacency of "I'm Just Me": "I was just born to be/Exactly what you see/Nothing more or less/I'm not the worst or the best/I just try to be/Exactly what you see"? Early on some well-wisher suggested he bill himself George Washington Carver III. But that would have been taking on airs, he'd stick with his own name thankee, and look what it was. Belated Country Music Hall of Famer Pride no longer tours regularly. He doesn't have to. He owns a bank. A MINUS

All Time Greatest Hits (MCA)
Though they named heavy metal, sort of, they were more hard rock, in both the principled '60s sense and the prole '90s sense. Rather than swamps of pomp à la Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, even Blue Cheer, their two 1968 albums were floods of sludge. They had tunes, lyrics, verve, they had a good beat and you could wheelie to them. Never as slick as his sunglasses after dark, German-born, Canadian-raised, r&b-loving, legally blind ex-folkie John Kay soon grew full of himself, in a sincere, pot-smoking way. But 30 years later his '70s FM staples pack more punch than the half of the debut this revision of 1975's Sixteen Great Performances leaves in CDNow. They also pack more punch than the lesser leavings of another hard rocker with a pop knack and a best-of out, Alice Cooper. Not only is Kay nicer—the gauche "For Ladies Only" isn't hip to the feminist jive like "Only Women Bleed," but it sure tries harder—he has a better drummer. Jerry Edmonton, died in a car wreck. He rocked. A MINUS


Listen to Robert Christgau's "Dean's List" Tuesdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m., on Village Voice Radio.

The Best of Billy Stewart: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection (Chess)
Well past his moment at 32, he died on the road in 1970, leaving this, more or less: two doowop-derived soul-r&b sob-song classics, trilled and scatted pull-out-the-stops demolitions of Doris Day's "Secret Love" and the Gershwins' "Summertime," and other vehicles for his piercing tenor and sharp groove—notably "Fat Boy," about an overweight lover who may be built for comfort but is also, for once, insecure. In short, a more distinguished body of minor music than can be claimed by many better-remembered later soul men who'll remain nameless here. B PLUS

Scrolls of the Prophet: The Best of Peter Tosh (Columbia/Legacy)
Tosh's prime was over long before he was murdered in 1987, probably for being the stoned, arrogant gadfly-cum-crank he turned into. By cherry-picking his 1976 and 1977 Columbia albums, culling two Rolling Stones keepers, adding three worthy oddments, and preserving EMI's 1981 "Fools Die" just in case anybody thinks I'm kidding about how far downhill he slid, this showcases the Wailers' only born propagandist. You love Bob Marley, I love Bob Marley, but he didn't venture social statements as hard-hitting, verbally or musically, as "Equal Rights" or "Legalize It." Righteous militance rarely wears well. That Tosh could have done this much with it is worth writing down. A MINUS

The Best of Merle Travis: Sweet Temptation (1946-1953) (Razor & Tie)
The two Jimmie Rodgers songs this adds to the Rhino 18-track it supplants are superfluous. He was a fine guitarist, but as a vocalist he wrote novelty songs—so novel they often had class consciousness, like "Sixteen Tons," which Tennessee Ernie Ford owned as soon as he put his tonsils on it. I miss "I Like My Chicken Frying Size," which exemplifies Travis's gustatory candor about human relationships. But then there's the newly added "Kentucky Means Paradise," which does the same for his gustatory candor about food: "You take a chicken and you kill it/And you put him in a skillet." Not many would mention the killing part, or change "it" to the more intimate "him" without flinching. Bet Merle liked his eggs really fresh. A MINUS

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